Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Jokerman" by Bob Dylan - March 28th 80's Quest Song/Band of the Day

This is a time-appropriate (1980's) rocked-up version of "Jokerman" that Dylan performed on The David Letterman Show.

Since Bob Dylan’s career has been so expansive and influential, this passage will just cover the period of his career during the 1980’s.

By the time the 1980’s rolled around, Bob Dylan had just come off a time in his life (the late 1970’s) when he had become a born-again Christian.  During his born-again phase he had released two albums of Christian music Slow Train Coming (1979 – which featured guitar work by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits).  Funny quote from Clinton Heylin’s book, “Bob Dylan:  Behind the Shades Revisited”….during the recording of this album Dylan was trying to evangelize to veteran record producer, Jerry Wexler, who was working on the album with him.  Wexler replied, “Bob, you’re dealing with a sixty-two-year old Jewish atheist.  Let’s just make an album.”  The album spawned the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” and won Dylan a Grammy Award for “Best Male Vocalist”.  When on tour from the fall of 1979 through the Spring of 1980 Dylan refused to play any of his older secular songs and only played the Christian stuff.
Dylan’s second Christian album was Saved was released in 1980.  Critics panned the album. Fans and fellow musicians were not fond of Dylan’s born-again furor.   In fact, John Lennon recorded a song shortly before his murder in December 1980 that was a response to Dylan’s song “Gotta Serve Somebody” – it was called “Serve Yourself”.  The album hit #3 on the UK charts and #24 on the U.S. charts.

During the recording of his next album (Shot of Love) Dylan took a break in the Fall of 1980 to tour for a series of “musical retrospective” concerts and once again began playing songs from his 1960’s repertoire.  He returned to writing and recording for the album in Winter.

1981’s Shot of Love was the last in what is considered to be Dylan’s religious trilogy.  While the album contained religious songs, it also contained the first secular songs Dylan had recorded in more than two years.  There was more rock n’ roll and less gospel on this album.  The standout songs from this album include "Every Grain Of Sand," "Caribbean Wind," and "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar".  The latter two songs deal with Dylan’s struggle to maintain the demands of a higher calling, while also dealing with troubled sexual relationships.

1983’s Infidels was released by Columbia Records in October 1983.  The album was seen as Dylan’s return to secular music and focused more on personal themes of love and loss, although songs like “Jokerman” still contained some biblical references.  “Sweetheart Like You” was another hit spawned from this album.  Not only did critics go wild for this album, it was also a commercial success.  It charted at #9 in the U.K. and #20 in the U.S.  Apparently, somewhere along the way Dylan must have had a change of heart about religion.  In 1997 after recovering from a heart condition he was quoted in Newsweek saying, "Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else...I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity."   Dylan had wanted to produce the Infidels album himself, but felt overwhelmed by all of the new recording technology that had come out, so he tried to bring on younger producers who he felt had more experience with this.  He approached David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello, before finally settling on Mark Knopfler.   Mick Jones from the Rolling Stones played guitar on the album, and famous reggae performers and producers Sly and Robbie were the rhythm section.  During the recording for Infidels many great songs were recorded that did not make it on to the album including “Blind Willie McTell” (a tribute to the blues musician), “Foot of Pride” and “Lord Protect my Child”.  These 3 songs were later released on an album called The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased 1961 – 1991). 

In 1985 Dylan released Empire Burlesque on Columbia Records which received mixed reviews.  Dylan produced much of the album himself.  On this album rather than record with a set band, he recorded with a series of different musicians including Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Al Green’s band, Sly and Robbie (once again), the band Lone Justice, Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, and Howie Epstein from Tom Petty’s band, Roy Bittan and Steve Van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and the drummer from David Letterman’s house band, Anton Fig.  The recording of the album was very casual, including Dylan’s production.  Ronnie Wood was surprised by Dylan’s lax authority as a producer and was quoted as saying, "[The engineers would] say, 'Hey Bob, we don't need this,' and he'd say, 'Oh, okay.' And they'd make a mix to their ears, and he'd just stand outside and let them do it. And I'd be saying, 'Hey! You can't let these guys...Look!! They've left off the background vocals!' or 'What about the drums?!' But there would be something going on in the back of his head which didn't allow him to interfere. And yet if he'd have gone into the control room with the dominance that he had while we were cutting the stuff, it could have been mind-bending."  Six months of work yielded only 3 workable songs.  Over the Winter, he returned to Los Angeles for more recording and finally completed the rest of the songs for the album.   In the Summer of 1984 he went on tour in support of the album.  Critics and fans were not warm to this album and some dubbed it “Disco Dylan”.
The album received less attention than the numerous charity projects that Dylan participated in that same year.  In January 1985 he performed on the "We Are the World" single, an American project organized to raise funds for starving Ethiopians.  Next he participated in Artists United Against Apartheid’s recording of “Sun City”, a song that protested apartheid (a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments of South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained.)  The song was recorded during the summer and released in October.  In July, Dylan performed at Live Aid in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), a massive benefit concert to raise funds for starving Ethiopians.  Dylan’s set with Ron Wood and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones was beset with technical problems.  At the conclusion of the set, Dylan asked the billions of television viewers and those in the stands to remember the American farmer and those in their own country struggling from economic events beyond their control.  Dylan’s remarks sparked singer Willie Nelson to organize Farm Aid, a benefit concert for struggling American farmers.  Dylan also performed at the benefit Farm Aid concert on September 22, 1985.  On this performance he was joined by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

 In November, Columbia Records released Biograph, a five-LP boxed set retrospective that became the second boxed set to sell half a million copies in the U.S. (the first was Elvis Presley’s Elvis Aaron Presley box set).   While few regard 1985 as one of Dylan's landmark years, it was one of his busiest as far as projects goes, and influential in his resurgence as a live performer. 

In April 1986 Dylan provided vocals to the opening verse of rap artist Kurtis Blow’s (see February 1st 80’s Quest post) songs “Street Rock” from the album Kingdom Blow.  It was Dylan’s first foray into the world of rap music.

Knocked Out Loaded was released by Columbia Records in July 1986.  The album contains 3 cover songs, 3 collaborations, and 3 solo compositions.  The album received mostly negative reviews.  Some critics called it depressing, others called it ridiculous.

In 1986 and 1987 Dylan toured extensively with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  He also toured with the Grateful Dead in 1987 which resulted in a live album called Dylan and The Dead. In 1987 Dylan also appeared in the movie Hearts of Fire as Billy Parker, a washed-up rock star who had become a chicken farmer.  He contributed two songs to the soundtrack, “Night After Night” and “I Had a Dream About You, Baby”.
In January 1988 Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In May 1988 Columbia Records released Dylan’s next album, Down in the Groove, it was the second album in a row to receive virtually negative reviews, and poor sales, putting Dylan’s career in a slump.  The album contained collaborations with the Grateful Dead and even Full Force (a Brooklyn hip-hop group who also performed with Lisa Lisa and The Cult Jam). In 2007, Rolling Stone magazine dubbed Down in the Groove as Bob Dylan's worst album.  Still in Summer 1988 Dylan toured in support of the album with large ensembles of high-profile artists such as Mick Taylor, The Grateful Dead, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  The tour actually turned out to be well-received and garnered a lot of praise.

After the release of Down in the Groove Dylan began recording and performing with George Harrison (formerly of The Beatles), Jeff Lynne (formerly of E.L.O.), Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty in a band called The Travelling Wilburys.  In Fall 1988 their multiplatinum album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released and reached #3 on the U.S. album charts.

Dylan’s last album during the 1980’s was Oh Mercy released on Columbia Records in September 1989.  Dylan had gone through a period of not being very motivated to write songs (especially while recovering from a hand injury which prevented him from playing the guitar), but with the songs on this album he was inspired and rejuvenated.    New songs came flowing out of him.  Daniel Lanois best-known for producing Peter Gabriel's album So and U2's album The Joshua Tree came on as producer for Dylan’s album.  Recording sessions began in a turn of the century apartment house that had a bordello-ish overtone.  Lanois was quoted as saying they turned the control room into a swamp complete with moss growing all over the place and stuffed alligators all around.  The atmosphere definitely provided a vibes for the straight ahead rock n’ roll the album delivered; still Dylan found the recording difficult.  After the last two Dylan albums had been so poorly received, most critics praised this album and considered it a comeback, while some found Lanois production work too overdone with its shimmering processed guitars.  The album did not hit the Top 20 in the U.S., but was a consistent seller. In 1989 Rolling Stone magazine ranked Oh Mercy was #44 on their list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980’s.  


Standing on the water, casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with truth so far off, what good will it do.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

So swiftly the sun sets in the sky
You rise up and say goodbye to no one
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
Both of their futures, so full of dread, you don't show one
Shedding off one more layer of skin
Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

You're a man of the mountain, you can walk on the clouds
Manipulator of crowds, you're a dream twister
You're going to Sodom and Gomorrah
But what do you care ? Ain't nobody there would want marry your sister
Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame
You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

Well, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy
The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers
In the smoke of the twilight on a milk-white steed
Michelangeo indeed could've carved out your features
Resting in the fields, far from the turbulent space
Half asleep near the stars with a small dog licking your face.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

Well, the rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks
Molotow cocktails and rocks behind every curtain
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin
Only a matter of time 'til the night comes stepping in.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

It's a shadowy world, skies are slippery gray
A woman just gave birth to a prince today and dressed him in scarlet
He'll put the priest in his pocket, put the blade to the heat
Take the motherless children off the street
And place them at the feet of a harlot
Oh, Jokerman, you know what he wants
Oh, Jokerman, you don't show any response.

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman.

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